It’s hard to believe that almost a whole year has passed since we were first discussing the prospect of the 2018 production with Mr Corbett. Our remit was ‘Make it big, make it glitzy and make it fun!’ Thus began a true labour of love with planning, rehearsing and marketing spanning the best part of twelve months.
The choice of show was a matter of long debate – which show would be Big, Glitzy and Fun – as well as pertinent, realistic and something everyone involved could really get behind? Hairspray quickly become the obvious choice. The messages of accepting those different from ourselves and the importance of standing up against injustice continue to be important lessons for our students to discuss and learn from. Those lessons, combined with a lot of really catchy songs, meant we knew we were onto a winner.
The Show Itself
Hairspray is set in 1960s Baltimore, focussing on Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenage girl, who just wants to dance on TV. Everyday, Tracy races home to watch the Corny Collins Show on TV, where a ‘Council’ of white teenage dancers strut their stuff. Once a month, on ‘Negro Day’, the show is taken over by black students instead. The two groups are not allowed to be on television together; in fact, even in the high school, the two groups are divided and take separate classes. Hairspray tells the story of how Tracy breaks the mould, not only by getting herself on TV, but by using her new position to champion a policy of racial integration leading to everyone – black and white, fat and thin – being able to finally dance together.Over the course of a Matinee to Years 5-6 and four evening performances in early December, including our final night ‘Gala Dinner’, over 1500 people came to witness Hairspray! Many audience members even came back a second or even third time (if they were lucky enough to get hold of tickets!).
The Rehearsal Process
On Wesak day, we held a morning of auditions in we challenged the students to three workshops – vocal, drama and choreography. We recorded all of the auditions and saw over 150 students in total. The process of actually casting the show was much tougher and matching students to their roles took the team a long time, but we all agree that this was time well spent!
One of the toughest decisions was, ‘How large do we make the chorus?’ Ultimately, every member of the chorus needed to be able sing, dance and act (the so-called “triple threat”). This made what many perceive to be ‘minor roles’ actually highly demanding and very challenging. And believe it or not, everyone who wasn’t on stage for a song was actually backstage singing in several part harmonies!
With our cast and rehearsal schedule (my own personal masterpiece!) in place, August soon came around and we really started to get going. As well as having a huge amount of students on stage, there was a large team working behind the scenes too. Not only did we have our set and props built by a student CCA with the support of the Art and Design & Technology Departments, but also our Marketing was led by a dedicated CCA working in tandem with representatives from the Whole School Marketing Department and led by our Business Studies Department!
Lunchtimes, after-schools and weekends saw staff and students giving generously of their time – in fact, we counted over 100 hours of rehearsals took place last term!
It was a pleasure to work with such a committed cast. Many students carefully juggled their commitments in order to participate in the spectacle. Participation in the Arts, and especially in a musical, stretches a child in more ways than you could possibly imagine! The level of multi-tasking goes beyond anything else. It is not just about being able to sing or even to simply hold a harmony line, but to do this whilst remaining in character and reacting to those around them, responding to an audience, leading other cast members, watching their footwork, remembering the choreography for 12 dances, learning their lines – and all whilst maintaining a confident smile of their faces! Truly impressive stuff. And at the same time, our cast members managed to keep up with their studies, attend IA trips, join orchestra rehearsals or GIS Dragons’ practices, compete in swim meets or maths competitions and for our Sixth Formers, submit university applications! Throughout this whole process, the dedication and commitment of our cast has been truly phenomenal.
January saw all the students involved find a final closure as we reached our cast party aka The Tony’s Awards Night. Staff, Cast, Props and Marketing donned their finest dinner jackets, bow-ties and sparkly dresses as we watched the recording, shared some food and distributed awards to celebrate some of the more notable moments in the process. Awards included the “Wiggliest Hip Shake” Award for Jing Yang Ngiaw, the “Sassiest” Award for Lara Gunapati and the “Best Comic Timing” Award for Amanda Suliawan.
If you were one of our audience members, we hope that we exceeded your expectations and that you saw Big and Glitzy the whole production was! We also hope that not only you had fun, but that you could see how much fun the students involved were having on our stage. Thank you for your support, and we look forward to seeing you in the audience of our next Secondary production!
Mr Andrew Taylor